Audit draws ire; former E911 director speaks out

Published 2:53 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2022

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The release of the latest county Emergency Communications District Audit Report has created a little heat under the collar of Roger Hager, who is the former executive director of Claiborne E911. Hager retired in June of 2020 after serving some 24 years at the helm.

Hager questions the way in which some $318,000 in equipment purchases was handled during the last fiscal year. So did the auditors in their report, who found a deficiency citing a failure to follow both state law and the county’s own policy.

Any purchase exceeding $10,000 must go through the bidding process set out by the County Purchasing Act of 1983 which is stated in Tennessee Codes Annotated Section 7-86-121(b).

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According to the audit, the E911 board did advertise for a CAD system, radio equipment and tower upgrades. However, the advertisement should have been clearer in verbiage or the three items split into separate notices.

The auditor reprimanded the board for its haste in settling on a bid.

“Bids should not be presented for approval to the Board prior to the bid closing date,” states the audit, in part.

According to the report, the bid was accepted on July 20 despite the fact that the newspaper notice stated the county would continue to accept bids through July 31.

Bill Fannon, who is the Mayor of Tazewell and the current chairman of the Claiborne E911 board, said in an interview that the county wound up receiving just the one bid through the closing date.

Fannon spoke of the circumstances behind the rushed bid acceptance which involved a change of meeting date.

“We change the meeting date sometimes because they’re using the meeting room (located inside the Claiborne Justice Center) or our attorney is sometimes not able to be there – we work around his schedule. (E911) presented the bid to the board. We accepted the bid. Come to find out, after the fact, that the bid (timeframe) had not ended,” said Fannon. “From my understanding with talking to the auditor, it was not a finding other than technical – basically a clerical error.”

Fannon said of the finding “it won’t happen again.”

The audit also cited a deficiency in the way in which dispatch consoles and other related furniture was procured through quotes and not by the accepted policy of advertising for the items.

In an interview, Hager questioned the inappropriate handling of the bid process.

“How can a government agency spend in excess of $300,000 without following state law on purchasing, especially when the governing E911 Board consists of the county mayor, three city mayors, the county sheriff, two police chiefs, the fire chief, the EMS director and the chairman of the Claiborne County Commission as well as the county attorney serving as the board attorney? All these individuals have years of executive level experience in those roles and have been doing bids for years.”

Hager claims the incident was “done on purpose by design.”

“And, it explains why their meetings have not been advertised and financial reports have not been submitted at each board meeting. It also explains why the E911 board assumed responsibility for the county-owned radio repeater and towers,” said Hager.

He characterized the board’s views of the E911 funds as a “cash cow.”

Fannon was asked about this allegation.

“I’m sure that since Ms. (Margaret) Goins took over as our director and even before that all financials were available at every meeting.”

According to Fannon, the financial statements are available to the public on request by calling the nonemergency number 423-626-1911.

Fannon insists each meeting has been duly advertised.

“I remember, we had to reschedule one meeting because we didn’t have enough time to get it in the paper.”

Following the initial filing of this story, GeoConex representative Craig Dotson contacted the Claiborne Progress. Dotson said his company had submitted a bid to provide the upgrades advertised in the paper. Dotson gave the Progress a copy of his bid submission which clearly shows having been emailed on the afternoon of July 28 – three days prior to the bid deadline.

According to Dotson, there is a third company that submitted a bid for the advertised upgrades. The Progress is in the process of verifying this information and will have more as this story develops.

Hager says he believes every E911 board member should be immediately removed and an investigation initiated to determine what other state or federal laws may have been broken.

“A new board must be appointed. It would also beg the question ‘how have these board members been doing purchasing in their own agencies?’” said Hager.

Meanwhile, current E911 director Margaret Goins says in her audit response that she will have a policy in place and that all future bids will be handled accordingly.

“Also all 911 board members and county attorney will be receiving training from the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board on the duties of a board member,” reads her response, in part.

The audit finding was under a previous administration. Sheriff Bob Brooks was appointed interim director just prior to the beginning of fiscal year 2021-22 and remained as such until Goins came on as the new director.

The nine-member E911 Board includes Chairman Fannon, Vice-Chairman (former Harrogate Mayor) Linda Fultz, Secretary/Treasurer (Tazewell Police Chief) Jeremy Myers, Sheriff Bob Brooks, (Claiborne Commission Chairman) Michael Campbell, Matthew Seals, (New Tazewell Police Chief) Ben Evans, (New Tazewell Mayor) Jerry Beeler and Danny McCreary.

Management includes Director Goins, Deputy Director Tammy Day and Administrative Assistant Diana Arnwine.